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Four Positives and Two Negatives From USA vs. Canada

United States v Canada - 2017 IIHF Women's World Championship Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Team USA dropped a 2-1 decision in overtime yesterday to Canada in the penultimate game of The Time Is Now Tour between the US and Canada as they prepare for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics.

The loss was disappointing, especially for the over 9000 American flag-waving fans at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minneota yesterday. But it’s worth remembering this game was more about preparation towards the ultimate prize, which is winning gold in Pyeongchang.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the positives and some of the negatives for Team USA yesterday, and what it could mean going forward as they work towards the Olympics.

The Good

  1. Special Teams

These are two evenly matched teams, and chances are, there’s going to be very little to separate them at 5-on-5. That means the big game could possibly come down to which team executes better in special teams. If yesterday was any indication, that should be a huge edge for the United States.

I thought the US power play looked very good yesterday. They had their most success when they were able to run an overload power play through a forward working off the half-wall(Here’s a quick video tutorial that more or less shows what the US is trying to do). This is a great example of the US power play executing to perfection. Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados makes a great save, but ultimately, that is what the US wants:

The US had three or four well-executed set-ups like that that ended the same way, with good scoring chances, even though it didn’t produce a goal. Ironically, it was just a broken play on the power play that produced their one goal, but the US spent a lot of their power play time in the zone and threatening, which increases the odds of catching a lucky bounce.

Canada, on the other hand, seemed like a mess on the power play. They really struggled on their power play zone entries, and the US did an excellent job on the PK of winning battles for 50/50 pucks along the boards, which meant Canada had a really tough time setting up their power play. The few times Canada was able to get possession of the puck coming off the wall, I thought they settled for their first shot rather than their best shot. I expect the Canadians to clean that up and improve by the Olympics, but that’s an area to watch for in Pyeongchang.

2. Maddie Rooney

The US certainly has some good goalies, but there is some question heading into the Olympics because they have three goalies with no Olympic experience, and the national team has rotated goalies consistently over the past year, so there’s no clear-cut number one starter. If the three are still auditioning for the starting role in the big game, Maddie Rooney helped her case with a strong performance on Sunday night.

She only faced 26 shots, but the quality was very high. She stopped a couple of semi-breakaways for Canada. I really liked her ability to recover quickly and still challenge shooters on a second/third shot, like this sequence in the third period:

I don’t know if Rooney will be USA’s top goalie at the Olympics, but if that type of performance is their baseline in goal, they’ll be just fine there.

3. Kendall Coyne

This probably isn’t a secret since she is leading the team in scoring, but Kendall Coyne was Team USA’s best skater yesterday. She’s got elite speed, which provided a match-up problem for Canada all game. It makes a big difference on zone entries, and Coyne was able to draw a penalty yesterday after beating a defender.

But more than just speed, I thought her vision and playmaking was really good too. I mentioned the US success at running their power play yesterday, and Coyne was a big part of that, with the power play running through her on the half-wall.

It’s also worth noting that she almost made one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen on the penalty kill yesterday. Coyne blocked a shot at the US blue line. She won a battle at the boards and kicked the puck down the ice, but lost her stick in the process. With a step on the defender, but no stick in her hand, Coyne raced down the ice, grabbed a stick from a teammate on the bench without breaking stride and came in on the net. Unfortunately, the 5’2” Coyne grabbed a stick that was about as tall as she is and wasn’t able to do much with the scoring chance, but it was some impressive awareness from both her and the bench.

4. The Crowd

The announced attendance yesterday was 9098, which felt like a very honest accounting. They only sold tickets for the lower bowl and suite levels at the X at this game, which condensed the crowd and really improved the atmosphere. The lower bowl was pretty much full, save the last few rows behind each net. They did a really great job marketing this event to girl’s hockey teams around the metro area; there were dozens of full teams there. The event seemed like a huge success.

Of course the next step for women’s hockey is finding a way to translate that Olympic interest into something sustainable at the professional level. I’m not sure anybody has the answer on how to do that at this point, but hopefully it is getting closer.

The Bad

1. Ran Out of Gas

At one point midway through the second period, the US was more than doubling up Canada on the shot count 20-9. The final shots ended 28-26 in favor of the US. Canada dominated the third period, save the final two minutes of regulation when the US made one last push. Frankly, the United States was lucky to get out of regulation tied, mostly thanks to some of the aforementioned great work by Rooney in goal.

I’m not sure what the issue is there. The US looked great in the first part of the game, but looked completely different in the third period. Regardless, it’s going to take a more complete effort if they’re going to beat Canada at the Olympics.

2. Roster Still Unsettled

This will maybe get its’ own story as we get closer to the Olympics and this situation fully plays out, but after announcing their “final” 23-player roster earlier this year, the US has added three players since then, meaning three players on the current roster are going home before the Olympics.

Head coach Robb Stauber didn’t offer much explanation other than vagaries about “putting together the best possible roster”. Nobody really knows what is going on behind the scenes in terms of team chemistry, but I have to wonder if whatever potential benefit in terms of overall talent these new players might make are outweighed by the potential damage to team chemistry by sending someone home this late, especially after what this group went through last year to earn better pay.

If the US does win gold this year, no harm, no foul(See: last year’s US World Juniors team). If they come up, expect to see a lot of recrimination about how this was handled.

As for the new additions, some of the big names on the US sat out yesterday so they could get an extended look. 18-year-old Cayla Barnes probably has the best chance of the three of making the final roster. She’s definitely one of the future stars of the team. The US was giving her time on the second power play unit, where she should really excel. There’s a bit of concern defensively—she got beat on Canada’s first goal. But overall, the future is very bright for her.

Sidney Morin seemed to fit in well on the US blue line. Her poise and patience handling the puck fits in well with the deliberate, possession-oriented style the US wants to play. There were some nerves apparent wearing the USA jersey for the first time. She missed a couple easy little passes. And in the third period, a miscommunication with a US forward led to Canada getting a great chance on a semi-breakaway. That just goes to show how difficult it can be to plug someone new in this late in the process.

Haley Skarupa was overall fairly quiet at forward. Overall, I’d say all three didn’t look out of place, but didn’t necessarily stand out either. As I said, it’s going to be very interesting whichever way things turn out with the final roster cuts.